For some time, I’ve been wanting to try a Hungarian mushroom recipe (mushrooms with paprika and sour cream) that I found in Deborah Madison’s “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.” Last night was cold and rainy, and it seemed like the ideal night for it. The mushrooms are simple, beautiful, and much richer than I expected. After browning sliced mushrooms in hot butter and olive oil, you sprinkle them with a healthy dose of flour and paprika, simmer them in stock, and finally stir in sour cream to make a creamy red sauce. (I learned something, too, which is one advantage of following a recipe closely for once: if you use lots of butter and a high heat, you get a lovely browning, strong flavor, and an incredible smell. This is no secret – it comes down to “butter and fried things are tasty” – but it’s a technique I usually avoid. I’m wussy about using high temperatures, and conservative in my use of oil. I expect that now I will be using more of both for a while.)
The trouble with really wanting to make a particular side dish is that you then have to build a meal around it. Mushrooms in cream sauce is not dinner; it needs something starchy and plain to anchor it. I chose to use quinoa, a South American grain which has a down-to-earth, nutty taste and has the extra advantage of being a good source of both protein and carbohydrates. Quinoa is still little known in the US, but is increasingly popular, and it has become a staple in my kitchen. Inspiration told me to make the quinoa into pancakes, so I could spoon the mushrooms on top. Part of my cooking philosophy is that almost anything can be made into pancakes, often to its improvement. So I took a couple servings of cooked quinoa, mixed in an egg, half a cup of flour, and a little stock to make it all stick together. This made a nice, thick, sticky batter, which I fried into cakes.
The quinoa pancakes worked perfectly with the mushrooms; they were crispy enough on the outside to hold their own against the sauce, but soft enough inside to absorb the flavors. On the plate, it looked like something that could be served in a restaurant, which is rare and satisfying for me, and tasted delicious, which is even more satisfying. This one goes on my list of meals to make again someday, especially when I’m in the mood for something easy that feels exorbitant.